Geneva Accords of 1954

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GENEVA ACCORDS OF 1954 resulted from a conference in Geneva, Switzerland, from 26 April to 21 July 1954 that focused primarily on resolving the war between French forces and those of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), led by the nationalist-communist Ho Chi Minh. The conference included representatives from Great Britain, France, the People's Republic of China, the Soviet Union, the United States, the DRV, Laos, Cambodia, and the State of Vietnam (later South Vietnam). Discussion of the Indochina conflict began on 8 May, the day after the defeat of the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu by DRV forces (Vietminh)underscored the futility of the French war effort.

The Vietminh expected that their defeat of France would lead to the establishment of a unified, independent Vietnamese state. However, their powerful Soviet and Chinese allies feared U. S. military intervention in Indochina and pressured the Vietminh to consent to a settlement that partitioned Vietnam. U. S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower had indeed considered military intervention to prevent a Vietminh victory, but after concluding that the merits of a unilateral strike were outweighed by the heightened risk of a global war that would preserve French colonialism in Indochina, his administration grudgingly came to accept a negotiated settlement.

The Geneva Accords consisted of separate cease-fire arrangements for Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam as well as an unsigned final declaration. The most significant provisions temporarily divided Vietnam at the seventeenth parallel, creating a northern zone under DRV authority and a southern region dominated by the French Union. The accords called for all military forces to withdraw to their respective zones within three hundred days. In addition, neither side was to enter military alliances, establish foreign military bases, or supplement its army and armaments. The agreements called for national elections in 1956 to reunify the country and created an international commission, consisting of Canada, India, and Poland, to enforce the accords.

Since the Eisenhower administration wished to distance itself from any compromise with communist forces, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles instructed American diplomats to observe, rather than directly participate, in the Geneva negotiations. When the conference ended, the United States simply noted the existence of the accords and promised not to disturb them by force. Although conservatives in the United States quickly condemned the agreements for rewarding communist aggression, Eisenhower and Dulles reasoned that the accords provided the United States with an opportunity to build an anticommunist, capitalist bastion in Southeast Asia free of the taint of French colonialism. American officials, then, had implicitly rejected the intent of the accords that the partition be temporary well before 16 July 1955, when South Vietnamese president Ngo Dình Diem cancelled the 1956 elections with American assent.


Anderson, David L. Trapped by Success: The Eisenhower Administration and Vietnam, 1953–1961. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.

Duiker, William J. U. S. Containment Policy and the Conflict in Indochina. Stanford, Calif. : Stanford University Press, 1994.

Gardner, Lloyd. Approaching Vietnam: From World War II through Dienbienphu, 1941–1954. New York: Norton, 1988.

H. MatthewLoayza

See alsoFrance, Relations with ; Vietnam War .

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Geneva Accords of 1954

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